Sunday Sermon for April 26, 2015, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 4:8-12; 1Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18
In the Gospel reading today we hear our Lord telling us that He is the Good Shepherd. We have all heard this many times and, in our minds, we have our own notions of what that means. We can think about being led into pleasant meadows, we can think about being protected, we can even think about being known and called by name as our Lord says that He does. However, none of these things is what makes Him the Good Shepherd.
Of course, we also know that He is the Good Shepherd because He lays down his life for the sheep. For this we are all very grateful because, as St. Peter says in the first reading, there is no other name given to humanity by which we will be saved. But even the fact that He laid down His life, in and of itself, does not necessarily make Him the Good Shepherd. After all, there may be a few hirelings who are serious and responsible and, therefore, might lay down their lives rather than abandon the flock that was entrusted to their care.
Our Lord says two things that set Him apart as the Good Shepherd. First, He tells us that the sheep are His own. Secondly, in making the distinction between Himself and the hired workers, he says that they are working merely for the pay. He, on the other hand, is doing His deed of mercy purely out of love. No one, He says, takes His life from Him; He freely chooses to lay it down in order to take it up again. Even if a hired hand was to stay with the sheep and even to die out of a sense of duty, this is not going to bring anyone to salvation.
Having established that it is an act of love that leads our Lord to die for us, we now have to look even deeper. He says that we are His own. This is the case because He chose us. Every one of us has to be able to apply this truth personally. In other words, He did not just go to the Cross for a generic group of people; He did this out of love for each person individually. He knows you and He calls you by name.
All of this, He tells us, is done by the command of the Father. Why would God command such a thing and why would the Son of God carry out such a command? Perhaps St. Catherine of Siena, more clearly than anyone else, has expressed the perspective which might help us to understand this mystery. She says: ‘Eternal beauty! You act as if You could not live without Your creature, even though You are life itself….You have fallen madly in love with what You have made!’
So much does God love us that in this act of love by which we are saved, there is an even greater reality at work. On the Cross Jesus forges a covenant and, in baptism, we become members of that covenant. St. John marvels at what this means when he says: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God. Yet so we are.”
We are not just a flock of sheep, we are persons whom God has made for Himself. Persons with whom He is madly in love. For those of you who are parents, think back to the birth of your first child. Remember to euphoria, the awe, the wonder, above all, remember the love you had for that child and for your spouse at that moment. Hopefully all of that has only grown since then, but even if you can recall the miracle of that moment. Your love at that moment was probably beyond anything you had ever experienced. The love is so great that you are willing to sacrifice anything for those other two people. Any hardship would not be asking too much. You would even be willing to die for them.
Now consider God’s love for that child and for the two people who cooperated with Him in creating that baby. It is infinitely more than your love at that moment. Now consider that that person whom God created is you. Yes, at the moment of your creation, at the moment of your birth, at every moment of your life God is in love with you. He not only loves you so much that He would be willing to sacrifice anything for you; He loves you so much that He actually sacrificed everything for you. As St. Paul reminds us, God is all in all. In laying down His life for you, the Good Shepherd literally gave all, more than the entire universe. You are His own; He loves you!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.